Although chemotherapy is one of the most common – and powerful – forms of mesothelioma treatment, there are other things that you must do in order to stay healthy while fighting this disease. Exercise will keep you physically fit, smoking cessation is vital and a nutritious diet supports well-being.
But when it comes to eating, there’s a problem: the side effects of chemotherapy – appetite changes, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, tenderness in the mouth and complications with bowel movements – may make food the last thing on your mind.
Still, you need to eat. And it’s not just the vitamins and minerals you need. Protein is also very important.
What does dietary protein do?
Government health experts estimate that protein makes up 15 percent of your body weight. When most people think of the effects of consuming a good amount of protein, they may call to mind muscle-bound bodybuilders. While it is true that dietary protein is essential to the proper function of and structure of muscles, its importance to health runs far deeper. At the microscopic level, protein allows cells to carry out various tasks, such as transporting molecules and breaking down toxins. Ultimately, protein helps you grow, fight infection and heal tissue damage.
Why is protein important during chemotherapy?
When most mesothelioma patients receive chemotherapy medications, the drugs circulate throughout the entire body. That means that they are not simply killing cancerous cells – they are also destroying healthy cells as well. Experts from the American Cancer Society (ACS) say that the most vulnerable areas of the body include the hair, bone marrow and lining of the gastrointestinal tract.
This can make you feel less energetic, nauseous and unwilling to eat. That’s a problem, because a sufficient amount of protein is necessary to help your body fight the disease.
Adjust your eating habits to increase protein intake
Experts from Stanford Medicine estimate that healthy people need between 45 and 60 grams of protein every day in order to stay healthy. Cancer patients undergoing treatment may need more.
The ACS has several quick tips to help cancer patients increase protein intake:
- Eat several smaller meals throughout the day instead of three large ones.
- Don’t wait until you’re hungry to eat.
- Drink high-protein liquids or supplemental shakes.
- Sneak in a little exercise before eating to increase your appetite.
Those who are on a chemotherapy regimen may find it helpful to eat a light meal or snack an hour or so before treatment. If a medication session is expected to run long, bringing another snack along may be a good idea.
Examples of high protein foods include dairy, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, beans, seeds, nuts and legumes.
If the side effects of chemotherapy are a problem, choosing certain items will help you work around specific symptoms.
In case you’re nauseous:
- Eat boiled or baked meat, hard-boiled eggs, non-fat yogurt, low-fat pudding or cream soups made with low-fat milk.
- Avoid fatty and fried meat, fried eggs, milkshakes made with whole dairy and pastries.
If diarrhea is a problem:
- Eat baked or broiled meat or fish, eggs, buttermilk, yogurt or cheese.
- Stay away from fried, fatty or gristly meat, as well as dairy products (with the exception of buttermilk or yogurt).
If you have any more questions about the best foods that you can eat, you should feel free to talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to recommend good supplemental shakes. Furthermore, it would be a good idea to discuss how chemotherapy is affecting your ability to eat.